The Merchant of Four Seasons is a pivotal work in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s career because it was the first film he made after meeting and befriending his muse Douglas Sirk in 1971. The film is more or less a variant of Fox and His Friends, except Hans Hirschmüller stars as the film’s born-loser whose human spirit is crushed by a cruel society, and the great Hanna Schygulla appears as the proverbial voice of wisdom common to so many Fassbinder films. Via an elliptical narrative structure consisting of various flashback sequences, Fassbinder evokes Hans’s many disappointments, beginning with Hans returning from the war after several years away and being berated by his mother (“The good die young, and people like you come back,” she says after hearing about the death of the young friend Hans had taken into the army with him). Though he innocently believes that a gift of flowers will win him a marriage proposal, Hans is rejected by the great love of his life (Ingrid Caven) for being a fruit seller. Frustration quickly sets in and Hans turns to liquor and violence, beating his wife, Irmgard (Irm Hermann), and driving her away from the home of his judgmental family. Sirk’s influence is most evident in Fassbinder’s subversions of Irmgard’s domestic bliss. When she flees from Hans and is propositioned by a man in a car, Fassbinder frames her in front of a department store window containing mannequins dressed in bridal attire. That a nearby display is that of a sleek living room unit reinforces just how little they have. Hans and Irmgard’s daughter, Renate (Andrea Schober), repeatedly bears witness to her parents’ embarrassments: she catches her mom having sex with a future employee of her father’s and later watches as another employee takes on the role of surrogate father when Hans is too detached from the world to help her with her homework. “I told you, he’ll live if he wants to,” says Schygulla’s Anna to the little girl, pointing to Hans’s inability to fend off the collective weight of the emotional disasters that have beset him his entire life. If not quite as solid as Fox and His Friends, The Merchant of Four Seasons is every bit as critical of its lecherous, hypocritical German society as it is with the victims who seemingly perpetuate their own damnation.
- New Yorker Films
- 88 min
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder
- Hans Hirschmüller, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Karl Scheydt, Andrea Schober, Gusti Kreissl, Ingrid Caven, Kurt Raab, Harry Baer, El Hedi ben Salem, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Lilo Pempeit
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